A miniature reconstruction of what the main pagoda may have once looked like.
Hwangryongsa, or Hwangryong Temple (most commonly mistaken as "Hwangnyongsa), is the name of a former Buddhist temple in the city of Gyeongju, South Korea. Completed in the 7th century, the enormous 9-story structure was built entirely with wood with interlocking design with no iron nails. It had a standing total height of 80 m (262ft), making it the tallest structure in East Asia and the tallest wooden structure in the world at the time of its construction. It was the center of state-sponsored Buddhism during the Silla and Unified Silla eras which were cultural beacons of Buddhism during its time. Its name means "Golden/Yellow Dragon Temple" or "Emperor/Imperial Dragon Temple." Archaeological excavations and other scientific studies of the temple began in April 1976 (OCPRI[clarification needed] 1984) and continue today.
Hwangryongsa was built during the Silla period, under the patronage of the Silla royal family, on a plain encircled by mountains near the royal palace compound of Banwolseong (Half-Moon Palace). Construction began in 553 under the reign of King Jinheung, and was not fully completed until 644. King Jinheung originally intended for the temple to be the site of a new palace but when a dragon was seen on the proposed site, a temple was commissioned instead. Hwangryongsa was designed to be a place where monks prayed for the welfare of the nation by asking for the divine protection of the Buddha and a means to impress foreign dignitaries.
Following the defeat of Baekje in the 660s, the Baekje architect, Abiji, was commissioned to build a nine-story wooden pagoda at the site. This fact indicates that the Baekje had superior knowledge or wooden architecture. The nine stories supposedly represented the nine nations of East Asia and Silla's future conquest of those states. The pagoda stood until it was burned by Mongolian invasions in 1238. No wooden architecture from the Silla people survives today but the ruins of Hwangryongsa suggest a Goguryeo influence.
The temple site in a valley within Gyeongju National Park near Toham Mountain and about 150 yards (140 m) from Bunhwangsa Temple, was excavated in 1972, revealing the temple layout and covering 40,000 artifacts.
Buddhism was strongly resisted by the nobles of Silla while the king personally supported the new religion. The king's Grand Secretary, Ichadon, suggested that he forge the king's royal seal and create an order that the people adopt the new religion. When the forgery was discovered by the nobles, Ichadon suggested that he be made the scapegoat and that through his death the power of Buddha made manifest. The king agreed to the plan. The nobles were predictably outraged when they discovered Ichadon's forgery and the king ordered his execution. When Ichadon was executed, a series of miracles occurred which proved the power and reality of the Buddhist faith and the nobles converted to the new state religion. Ichadon's sacrifice was the impetus to the building of Hwangryongsa Temple.
Another legend concerns the giant golden Buddha statue that the temple possessed. It was cast in the reign of King Jinheung as the temple centerpiece. The legend states that the gold for the statue came from King Ashoka of India. Ashoka had apparently attempted to cast a golden triad but failed. He then put the gold in a boat along with scale models of Bodhisattvas. Each country that received the boat was equally unable to cast the statues, and not until the boat had arrived in Silla could a statue be cast.
Only the massive foundation stones of the temple remain in current times. The original complex took seventeen years to complete.
- The main hall was 155 feet (47 m) in length and 55 feet (17 m) in width.
- The longest outer wall of the temple was 288 meters in length and the area enclosed by the outer walls covered approximately 80,000 square meters.
- The temple ruins also contain pedestal stones which were for monumental Buddhist statues. One statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha was five meters tall.
- The temple was originally arranged in the "three Halls-one Pagoda" style which meant that the pagoda was in the center of the complex and flanked by three main halls on the left, right, and behind the central pagoda.
- The famous nine-story pagoda, which was commissioned by Queen Seondeok after the main temple was finished, was the largest Korean pagoda ever built as well as being the tallest structure in East Asia and the tallest wooden structure in the world at the time of its completion. It was reported to be 263 feet (80 m) tall and the body was made entirely of wood. Only its foundation stones remain today but they attest to the mammoth proportions of the original structure. The pagoda had a foundation area of 6,084 square feet (565.2 m2), was supported by eight pillars on each side, and had sixty foundation stones.
A model of old Gyeongju. The pagoda at Hwangryongsa Temple towers over the city.
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